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FIRST-PERSON: A perspective on keeping one’s word

AMMAN, Jordan (BP)–Glancing out the passenger window to the side-mounted mirror of the van, I caught a glimpse of a woman and a small child running after us, waving desperately. The chase had begun more than half a mile back — when the woman had been promised a box of food.

We were at the “Saddam Hussein Camp” in Ammam, Jordan, distributing food supplies to the neediest Iraqis and other refugee families. Led by an aggressive young woman from an Islamic Women’s Center in the area, we already had traversed many rocky hills, narrow inclines and crumbling steps to deliver staples that could feed a family of five for a month.

Stopping one last time in this neighborhood, we left one of the vehicles in our caravan at the bottom of the hill after efforts to give it a boost failed. On a busy street, the workers there were quickly swarmed and determined to wait for us to finish and join them before distributing the remaining dozen boxes of food left in their vehicle.

On the way up the hill, our vehicle passed one of the prolific white, tenement-like buildings where sometimes up to nine people share two rooms and the sky shows through the rooftops. My heart lurched at the sight of one young woman whose face seemed shrunken, her eyes glassy and who appeared old and weary beyond her years. Clutching her hand was a subdued youngster, unlike the rest of the children who eagerly grabbed for candy and welcomed our arrival with giggles and antics.

I wanted to help, but I knew we couldn’t stop the van on the middle of the hill. As we swept past, I prayed we would somehow reach this woman and child. Caught up in taking pictures of the women and children at the top of the hill — and in following our people into the refugee homes — I quickly forgot the sight of the weary woman. As we were preparing to leave, though, my heart jumped again, and I uttered a quick prayer of thanks as our Muslim leader stood with her arm around the woman, leading her to our van.

It was quickly discovered that our van had run out of food, so the woman was directed down the hill toward our other vehicle. While we jumped into our air-conditioned van which turned around to navigate the steep decline, I noticed the woman running with her child down the hill ahead of us. I felt thankful that this woman would receive food.

But in the true nature of the Middle East, where we had changed plans several times a day — and sometimes by the moment — our leader decided that it was too dangerous to open the vehicle idling at the bottom of the hill and that both vehicles should move out of the area before we created a riot.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I turned in my seat to watch the woman and child silently chase us — one hand waving us down as she struggled to keep up for at least half a mile while we moved in stops and starts through heavy marketplace traffic. Desperate, she caught up to my window once, and I could but shrug and say through the glass: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

I told those in the van who had by now commented on her endurance in following us: “Put yourself in her shoes. She is a desperate mother who is hungry and knows her child is hungry. What would you do if you knew you had been promised food?”

In my heart, I knew it was wrong to make a promise, even in the heat of the moment, to a person so worthy of our care. It grieved me to think we would leave the neighborhood and our Christian witness in this land of Islam would be irreparably impacted by our failure to keep our word to the neediest of God’s own creation. Reason fought over tears as in anguish I asked our driver if I could at least hand her some money so that she could shop for her family.

To my amazement, he told me I could. Reaching into my passport purse, I pulled out what would more than cover the price of a box of food. Tears popping, I prayed the traffic would delay us long enough for the woman to catch up. I could hear the earnest prayers of those in our van.

Finally, the woman reached us just in time for me to roll down the window and hand out the Jordanian money. The look in her eye was one of honor and respect, of thankfulness and humility. I had only a glimpse into her soul when I told her, “Jesus loves you.”

The blank look brightened for a moment when she said, “Shokran (thank you),” and then turned away to comfort her wailing and weary son whom she had dragged through the streets. My last sight was of her was kissing his tear-stained face as the van whisked away.

“God, You are gracious,” I prayed. “Thank You for that opportunity and show me every day how I might love unconditionally. Help me to always keep my word and let that word be a testimony of all You have done for me — lest I forget the downtrodden who need You.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan